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Menswearspeak: what they say and what it means

November 7, 2013 Menswearspeak: what they say and what it means

Taken from an article written by Alfred Tong for The Telegraph

In George Orwell’s 1984, “newspeak” was the fictional language invented by a totalitarian regime to limit free thought and self expression. Today, words like “sartorial”, “contemporary”, “tailoring” and “heritage” form a kind of “menswearspeak” which bamboozles men into buying generic, overpriced clothing. But is this new language the result of some carefully planned industry conspiracy to brainwash us all? Or is it down to pretension, vanity and laziness? Either way, let’s decode some of the jargon.

Menswearspeak meaning: Anything that’s really, really good.

Real-world meaning: Steve McQueen is a men’s style icon. A Rolex Oyster is an iconic watch. An icon is a one-off, an example of something that is the very best in its category. But like, “bespoke”, it is now used in almost any context where the brand, designer or journalist needs to be make something sound good but has run out of ideas.

Menswearspeak meaning: The product has a supposed long and colourful history, which makes 1) a product worthy of an inflated price tag and 2) its press release easier to write.

Real-world meaning: Most recently revived “heritage brands” are in fact a “zombie brands” – defunct companies without any tangible assets other than an archive, an English sounding name and a once glorious past. Most haven’t made anything for ages. More often than not they’ve been raised from the dead by a hedge fund or fashion conglomerate to cash in on the “heritage” trend. When a brand starts going on about its heritage, you can be sure it’s run out of ideas.

Menswearspeak meaning: Almost anything that has been made, altered or ever so slightly tweaked by a real-life flesh-and-blood human being. Ergo: expensive.

Real-world meaning: The traditional Savile Row meaning of “bespoke” is a suit made from scratch, by hand, according to a client’s measurements. It was rendered meaningless by the British Advertising Standards Authority when it ruled that “bespoke” could refer to, well, almost anything. So now you get ‘bespoke’ pipefitters.

Menswearspeak meaning: Some serious design thought has been put into making sure that the cut of this particular suit, shirt or trouser is new, original and of the moment. That’s why you’re paying extra.

Real-world meaning: It’s a bit tight, isn’t it?

Menswearspeak meaning: These clothes are cut to suit those with more classic, gentlemanly and refined tastes – sophisticates who don’t go in for all that new-fangled tight contemporary stuff.

Real-world meaning: Huge shirts and suits that billow out like a hot-air balloon, designed to fit fat, middle-aged men.

Menswearspeak meaning: An ingenious update of traditional items of clothing, with the addition of unusual colours and eccentric design flourishes.

Real-world meaning: A tired, once popular item of clothing that has been spiced up with superfluous details to hide the fact that it’s generic and overpriced. Examples include: brightly coloured stitching on the lapel of a jacket, elbow patches on cardigans and loafers with three tassels. This is the sartorial (see below) equivalent of a turnip that’s been carved into the shape of a lotus flower on a plate of Chinese food – decorative but entirely devoid of taste.

Menswearspeak meaning: No one really knows. But it looks smart, yeah?

Real-world meaning: Sartorial comes from the Latin word “sartor” meaning tailor. It is now a catch-all term describing a look which consists of any of the following – tight suit, pocket square, short trousers, beard, moustache, NHS style glasses, bow tie, brogues.

Menswearspeak meaning: An exceptionally well dressed man.

Real-world meaning: Anyone wearing any combination of the following – tight suit, pocket square, short trousers, beard, moustache, NHS style glasses, bow tie, brogues. Any manner of sartorial buffoonery now makes you a “dandy”, or even worse a “modern dandy”.

Menswearspeak meaning: Layering is a totally new concept in “sartorial” dressing for the “sharply dressed” “dapper” “dandy”.

Real-world meaning: If it’s cold, wear a jumper over a shirt. If it rains, wear a raincoat. If it’s really cold, wear a shirt, a jumper and a coat, one on top of the other.

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